Since the early days of our company’s founding, Nurse.com has believed in publicly recognizing and celebrating nursing excellence and has made doing so part of our company mission. Now, after nearly three decades, the GEM Awards program is the largest and most prestigious of its kind in the nation. The program underscores our belief that excellence exists in all areas of nursing, and we consider it a privilege to give meaning to excellence by publicly acknowledging nurses every chance we get. Here, we proudly introduce our 2016 regional finalists, selected by our RN judges from the many nominations we received this year.
Excellence in Clinical Nursing
Hrachuhi (Lily) Hakhpandyan, BSN, RN
White Memorial Medical Center
After joining the facility as a new graduate resident three years ago, Hakhpandyan has become a valued member of the team. She naturally fit in and blended in with the organization’s group of professionals who care for members of their community, her nominator said.
She has demonstrated her dedication and passion for nursing by being involved in unit-based projects, hospital projects, councils and committees. As co-chairwoman of the unit-based council, Hakhpandyan has assisted in improving the unit employee engagement score. For instance, she and fellow nurses implemented a unit suggestion box, which led to unit-specific issues being addressed and some resolved. After implementation of the suggestion box, they felt that their opinion mattered and they could make a difference by speaking up.
As a member of the palliative care steering committee, Hakhpandyan has demonstrated her compassion and sensitivity to issues related to end of life and participated in annual events tied to the topic. She created poster boards and made aromatherapy sachets to provide to participants and signed T-shirts for committee members. Her sensitivity to the topic and her compassionate approach made a difficult discussion comfortable for the attendees, her nominator said.
Hakhpandyan has served as a preceptor for the last two years, helping new grads acclimate to their role. She has received training as a charge nurse and will be starting a master’s degree in nursing program this summer. Hakhpandyan is recognized as a kind, compassionate and intelligent individual.
Deborah Rice-Lang, MN, FNP-BC
UCLA School of Nursing
An advanced practice nurse, Rice works three days per week in a clinic caring for an underserved population. She also teaches at the UCLA School of Nursing, and in this dual role as a family nurse practitioner and as a faculty member, she provides clinical experience for FNP students to address health disparities. Additionally, for the past 10 years, she has provided high-quality care for vulnerable populations at a county clinic performing forensic exams and medical evaluations for children in the foster care system.
She was the first nurse to serve as vice chairwoman of the Song-Brown Commission Office of Statewide Health Planning, which allocates funds to support training programs and increase the supply of healthcare professionals in underserved communities. She was publicly elected to a community hospital board of directors, which had a budget exceeding $200 million. During two terms, one as board chairwoman, she led the collaboration between Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the city and a hospital district to develop three community clinics located in an underserved area with a population greater than 300,000. Rice’s leadership in negotiating collaboration of these health organizations resulted in the implementation of healthcare services for children and adults across the lifespan where none had been available before.
Rice is an exceptional healthcare professional in all respects, her nominator said. She collaborates with community organizations to increase access to healthcare, and is an outstanding role model for future APRNs to practice in medically underserved communities.
Lisa Lima, MSN, PNP, CNS,
Clinical Nurse Specialist, NICU
Valley Presbyterian Hospital
Van Nuys, Calif.
An instrumental member of the leadership team, Lima directs clinical nursing practice in the facility’s NICU and coordinates critical care education program development and the clinical competency of the nursing staff. She reviews and develops new policies and consults with the interdisciplinary team on complex neonatal issues and implements evidence-based research to ensure high quality of care for neonates.
Her expertise, work ethic and knowledge are unsurpassed, according to her nominator. She not only enhances the NICU department, but also has been instrumental in bringing best practices to the hospital’s maternity and labor and delivery units. For instance, she standardized the neonatal crash carts, working with the NICU manager to obtain the six carts and all of the supplies necessary for resuscitation. Lima is not afraid to question the status quo, and because she sets high goals and expectations for herself, she is able to examine issues more closely and ensure best practices.
She is an exemplary educator, her nominator said. She trained five new nursing residents who now are functioning independently in the department, and she also provides mentoring for experienced NICU nurses, encouraging them to obtain their certification. Her colleagues and staff know that watching others succeed makes Lima proud. She genuinely cares for everyone and has the department’s best interests at heart. Her morals, values and work ethic make her a stand out, and she works tirelessly each day, accomplishing tasks efficiently, effectively and in a timely manner, according to her nominator.
Sakura Norling, RN, ADN, PCCN, SCRN
Clinical Nurse II
St. Joseph Hospital
When working with her patients, Norling consistently maintains a compassionate and caring attitude. She always strives for excellence in clinical outcomes and collaborates well with physicians and other healthcare providers in meeting evidence-based core measures throughout admission and through discharge.
She is generous and kind, giving positive feedback to her peers and leaders and enhancing teamwork in the telemetry unit, said her nominator. She serves as a role model to nursing students with her professional manner, teaching them important clinical information and skills during their rotations while giving them opportunities to practice their critical-thinking and technical skills with every patient assignment.
Always interested in excellence, both academically and professionally, she is back in school to complete her BSN. Norling is recognized by her colleagues as someone who loves to learn and looks for ways to have opportunities to grow professionally. She has served as co-chairwoman for the acute MI team and is serving on the ethics committee.
Norling is intuitive and assertive and speaks up when there is a negative outcome from either a clinical situation, staff interaction or difficult patient/family circumstances. She works collaboratively to determine how a similar situation could be handled more effectively in the future, and she follows through with an action plan by consulting with the management team and other departments as necessary.
Dedicated and diligent, Norling possesses a positive attitude and proactive approach to patient care, and she is said to light up the unit with her laughter, joy and optimism.
LeAnn Shipp, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC
Registered Nurse, ICU
VA San Diego Healthcare System
Shipp is dedicated to the staff and veterans she serves as an ICU staff nurse. She recently headed a project to implement a hospitalwide monitoring system for all inpatient monitored beds. The initiative included more than half the hospital’s staff, and she collaborated with all departments and management involved in the project to ensure a seamless transition to the new system. It took more than a year to complete this major endeavor, but capable and confident, Shipp tirelessly led the team, with great passion and diligence while still maintaining her other professional nursing responsibilities, her nominator said.
Her colleagues credit Shipp for her ability to keep everyone on track, providing organized updates on contracts, involving the CNS group on setting appropriate parameters and scheduling needed implementation and staff training sessions. Because of her outstanding efforts and strong organizational skills, 97% of the staff was trained prior to installation of the monitor. She worked with the anesthesia department to ensure communication existed and functioned between the documentation system and the monitoring system.
Shipp also created a train-the-trainer educational session so newly hired staff would have the same learning opportunities as those who worked at the VA facility during the system’s implementation. Because of this monitoring system, positive outcomes have been realized; the alarm fatigue and false alarms have significantly decreased.
Taking on a project this major would normally have been a full-time job, but Shipp completed this initiative while still caring for her patients at the bedside.
Adriana Velez, MSN, BS, RN, ATC
Clinical II, Medical Telemetry
St. Joseph Hospital
From the first day Velez began her new grad orientation at St. Joseph to the present, one year later, her positive attitude, compassion and commitment to delivering the highest quality of patient care has been clearly demonstrated by her actions on every shift, her nominator said. Diligent and detail-oriented, she works closely with physicians and other disciplines to facilitate the best possible outcomes for her patients, and her unique positivity helps create a healing environment for patients and a good work environment for her colleagues. She has a calming demeanor, is known to start and end her shift with a smile and always remains optimistic even when the demands of the unit may cause her work load to increase.
As a patient and family advocate, Velez models the holistic approach. She often goes above and beyond to assure that her patients’ psychosocial and spiritual needs are acknowledged and supported, while providing them with the highest quality nursing care. She takes time out of her busy day to talk with her patients and their family members regarding sensitive and heartfelt issues, such as end-of-life decisions. For example, Velez stayed after her shift to lend a compassionate ear and help answer questions for a patient’s daughter who was in the process of deciding her dying mother’s code status.
Velez also supports improvement initiatives and brings new patient care ideas to management. She served as champion for a quietness campaign, conducting research and educating staff about the importance of a quiet and healing environment.
Excellence in Community Care
Luz Cristobal, MSN, RN
Substance Use Disorder Program Care Coordinator
VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
North Hills, Calif.
Cristobal is passionate about helping patients with substance use disorders, assisting them on a journey to achieve a sober lifestyle. Her patients speak highly of the care and assistance they receive from her, a nurse who understands the nature and the level of care associated with addictive behaviors, her nominator said.
Her treatment advocacy includes educating the group about health promotion, disease prevention and relaxation. As an expert in outpatient detoxification, she identified a problem due to the lack of facility inpatient beds for veterans with complicated cases of alcohol withdrawal, a history of alcohol-related seizures with delirium tremens or those at risk for other complications who could not be treated on an outpatient basis.
Cristobal expressed concerns to management about the care of these individuals, who then went on to explore potential alternatives, eventually establishing an agreement with another treatment center to provide such services. Data indicate this program has been successful, with 94% of patients completing their treatment plan at the other facility.
Cristobal is a community volunteer, with a passion for U.S. troops. She collaborated with colleagues to prepare and package commodities to be sent to service men and women deployed overseas. She goes above and beyond her call of duty to help those who have served. She is a compassionate nurse and a good listener, and her patients consider her someone they could depend on, to call and ask questions about their struggles in substance use and their difficulties living with their disease of addiction.
Liz Harrell, DNP, PMHNP-BC
Arizona State University, College of Nursing & Health Innovation
Director of the Student Health Outreach for Wellness Clinic, Harrell oversees a team of volunteers — students, faculty and others — who care for homeless individuals on the weekend when the regular clinic is closed. Opened in 2015, it includes an academic program, a state-licensed clinic, community outreach and a research center. The clinic is a pioneer project for the National Center for Interprofessional Practice.
Harrell takes care of all of the oversight, supply ordering, recruitment and training, grant writing, fundraising and data collection. She worked tirelessly to launch the clinic and keeps it operating to meet its goals and increase access to care for this population. She has fostered professional and interprofessional competencies of future healthcare workers and has built on the knowledge of the clinicians who work there about caring for the homeless.
The clinic provides weekly outreach, offering physical assessments and TB screening to those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Several students are conducting research projects at the clinic to improve patient care and outcomes. A health fair was one of the first events held at the clinic, in which 100 students and 14 licensed personnel managed 11 health assessment stations and treated 180 homeless persons. In addition, nine community groups set up booths to assist with various services. Harrell is compassionate and dedicated to improving the physical and mental health of the homeless population, her nominator said, and she has been successful in obtaining funding for this innovative project, achieving outstanding outcomes.
Valerie Hayes, PhD, MN, PMHNP-BC, CARN-AP, APHN-BC
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Integrated Community Care
VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
A psychiatric nurse practitioner, Hayes works as part of a multidisciplinary team that provides healthcare services to more than 750 homeless veterans. The overwhelming majority of these patients suffer from a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse. The success of moving individuals out from chronic homelessness depends on them achieving and sustaining sobriety, which is impossible without first stabilizing their mental illness. The vitality of the team is fundamentally dependent upon achieving this core objective.
Since joining the team, Hayes has excelled and exceeded all expectations. Her skill with crisis de-escalation is legendary, her nominator said, and her calm, gentle and professional manner is disarming and would quickly neutralize the most troubling outbursts. Under her care, veterans are assured their concerns will be addressed, then the safety boundaries of behavior are clearly outlined. If this agreement is violated, the veteran understands the consequences.
This approach has been so successful that teams within the entire program have begun using it. Her insight is profound and psychiatrists often refer the most challenging cases to Hayes, her nominator said. She initiates a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation, develops a treatment plan, initiates appropriate care and follows the patient closely, identifying compounding medical, psychological or social services issues early. Hayes is credited with involving the entire team to ensure positive outcomes, and her success has opened the door for other psychiatric nurse practitioners to practice in this environment.
Angela Kamau, MSN, RN-BC
Registered Nurse Care Manager
VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
A care manager on the homeless patient care team, Kamau identifies barriers to care and finds workable solutions, all aimed to end homelessness for veterans. Caring for these individuals takes a very special person with exceptional clinical skills, her nominator said, and one must be a well-seasoned clinician like Kamau, who is committed to excellence.
Professionalism and compassion build the veterans’ trust early as they witness Kamau’s commitment to coordinate all needed primary, specialty, mental health and social services. She takes part in ongoing quality-improvement projects to enhance the patients’ access to care, reduce the team’s safety hazards, and improve the team’s quality of care by identifying gaps in the care received.
For her first project, she assessed why the team had a high rate of walk-in patients. She discovered that 70% of them wanted medication refills, even though the patients had recently been seen in the clinic. She worked with the team to develop a solution, and a protocol was established for the providers to review and renew all necessary medications prior to the end of the every veteran’s office visit.
Kamau also established a phone line where the veteran could call to reach any provider. Phone traffic increased, as expected, but the medication refills were usually accomplished within 24 hours or less. Costly unnecessary visits to the ED decreased dramatically — by more than 50%. Veterans reported an increase in satisfaction with the care they were receiving and the speed in which their needs were addressed.
Judy Reynolds, BSN, RN, PHN, NCSN
Long Beach (Calif.) Unified School District
Reynolds is the school nurse for Buffum Total Learning Center, which provides an age-appropriate behavioral, language, academic, play and sensory-based program for preschoolers with special needs. She also serves as the preschool assessment nurse for the entire school district for children referred to the special needs program, performing more than 50 assessments in one month during summer.
Because Reynolds has a vast amount of clinical knowledge and experience about special education and medically fragile children, she understands what the students need or may need. She identifies that some may not be ready to be placed in the school environment and may need home or hospital services, prior to coming to school, and she serves as a strong and passionate advocate for them.
Reynolds trains her school staff on how to do tube feedings, trach suctioning and catheterizations, and she ensures they perform the technical skills correctly. A team player, Reynolds encourages school nurses she works with to function with strong interdisciplinary collaboration and close communication.
She is the Long Beach School Nurse Association president and a member of the California School Nurse Organization and the National School Nurse Association. She promotes camaraderie among the 51 school nurses in the district and as a result, helps them feel closer as a team. Her colleagues recognize her as someone who loves to mentor newer school nurses, as well as someone they can talk to and ask for advice or help at any time.
Excellence in Education and Mentorship
Dometrives Armstrong, MSN, FNP, RN, PHN
Professor, Nursing Education
San Diego City College
Armstrong contributes to nursing’s body of knowledge through her own formal nursing education, as well as through her ability to educate and mentor others. She began her nursing education at San Diego City College in 1991 and returned to teach at the school in 2004, after graduating with an MSN from the University of San Diego. She is pursuing a doctorate at Walden University.
Considered to be a most innovative educator in the San Diego City College nursing department, she leads faculty and students into the 21st century in healthcare, nursing and education. Her students love her direct, hands-on approach to clinical education as well as her creative teaching techniques in the classroom. She is leading the school’s entire faculty to change the way they teach in the classroom — from lecture to interactive learning.
Armstrong has developed partnerships with several low-income housing projects in San Diego, offering nursing students the opportunity to provide health teaching each semester in these communities. She also has connected nursing students to a mobile service, So Others May Eat, so they can provide health screening for those homeless individuals who come to pick up food there.
Because of Armstrong, the nursing education department has the reputation of active participation, and many organizations request students for events because of their knowledge and professionalism. Armstrong is committed to her work, her education, her family and her community and has enriched the lives of so many people she has touched, her nominator said.
Jessica Corley, MSN, RN, CNS, AGCNS-BC
Senior Specialist, 4 West Ortho/Surgical
Sharp Grossmont Hospital
La Mesa, Calif.
During the past two years, Corley transitioned from a frontline staff nurse to a strong and well-respected senior specialist at the facility, her nominator said. She supports staff and patients on a 33-bed progressive care unit with an emphasis on orthopedic procedures.
Corley is responsible for the education, competence and professional growth of 90 frontline staff. In addition she evaluates the efficacy and safety of products, devices and technology, and as a nurse leader she reviews and integrates evidence-based practices into clinical care delivery, leading to improved patient outcomes.
Corley’s strength lies in her positive, can-do attitude and the thoroughness she puts into every task or project she undertakes; her attention to detail benefits both patients and her peers, according to her nominator. Her effectiveness as an educator is enhanced by the fact that she welcomes being present in the care environment, near or at the bedside, which allows her to identify learning opportunities and gain the respect of the bedside staff for her clinical knowledge and skill.
An excellent advocate for patient and staff safety and satisfaction, she precepts newly hired senior specialists and mentors others who are not assigned to her. She accepts challenges, such as preparing nurses to care for more acutely ill patients and developing education for a new bariatric program, and she seeks opportunities for her staff to grow and involves them in projects in which she believes they will succeed. Her nominator said her presence can light up a room.
Kimako Desvignes, MSN, BS, RN
Intensive Care Unit, Nurse Manager
VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
Establishing the roles and responsibilities of the float pool was key to sustaining excellence in quality of care delivered, and as a float pool nurse manager, Desvignes was given the job of improving the competency of more than 40 float pool employees at the facility.
Desvignes made a significant effort to promote a culture of continuous improvement and excellence; in part she accomplished it by engaging staff in their own pathways for career progression. Through dedication, consistency and a strong desire to improve and promote change, Desvignes was able to successfully stabilize and cultivate a working environment that is thriving in the face of limited resources and budgetary constraints. She also helped redesign the patient transport office, creating a standardization of expectations that increased patient safety.
Her most recent assignment to the ICU entailed an enormous feat of process redesign, leadership establishment and standardization, and her most admirable quality is her innate ability to mentor fellow colleagues and staff, her nominator said. Desvignes has taken an active role in ensuring that each nurse under her management has the best possible chance for professional success, and she makes it a priority to support every effort her staff makes to progress toward a higher goal. For example, she has helped foster nursing assistants into RN roles, assistant managers into manager roles and clerical personnel into nursing roles.
Her nominator said that Desvignes is admired for her ability to walk into difficult or broken systems and help rebuild and stabilize them.
Darron Durgin, MSN, RN, PHN
Supervising RN, Staff Development, Correctional Health Services
Orange County (Calif.) Health Care Agency
A comprehensive care supervising nurse, Durgin heads the staff development program, conducting training sessions, orientation and continuing education programs specific and appropriate for those who work in corrections. He is a well-respected servant leader who continuously promotes employee development and training and advocates for the multiple and often complex needs of the underserved jail population, his nominator said.
Durgin assesses the motivation, learning needs and perceptions of his team members, colleagues in other disciplines and nursing students, and then shares the information with the nursing management team to advocate for and create a plan of action. He is said to inspire people to do a better job every day, and employees respond to his optimism, dedication and innate ability to remove barriers so they can perform at the highest level of care for their patients and families.
Because Durgin wants to understand what team members’ and nursing students’ aspirations are before mentoring and coaching them, he takes time out of his busy schedule to talk to them individually. He gives positive and constructive feedback about patient care and teaches staff how to improve their documentation. He always highlights the importance of educating patients about their disease process and supporting patients in their actions so they can improve their health, well-being and their lives.
He is admired for his ability to instill pride in his nurses and boost morale among the team, which translates into stellar patient care and staff satisfaction, his nominator said.
Margaret Santandrea, MHA, MSNed, RN, CCM
Manager, NCLEX Success
West Coast University
As the manager of NCLEX Success at West Coast, Santandrea works with undergraduate nursing students to bolster their chances of success on the National Council Licensure Exam. She is tireless in her pursuit of excellence and has led the team to a tremendous increase in score improvement, achieving a 90% pass rate in the past two years.
A positive and inspiring role model for others, she helps students believe in themselves and gain the confidence they need to be successful in the nursing profession. What makes Santandrea unique is her passion and dedication to the education and success of future nurses, her nominator said.
She is relentless in her pursuit of success for graduates who need to pass the NCLEX-RN for the first time as well as for those who do not pass the first time, and in fact, has a proven success rate for those students who need to take the NCLEX exam again.
Santandrea wants all graduates to reach their professional dreams and helps to ensure that they are not just test ready, but rather understand the clinical concepts and theoretical knowledge needed as a practicing nurse.
Her colleagues admire the way Santandrea is tireless in her dedication and service to others, and know that it is her passion to help students that makes her an exceptional manager. “She lights up when students succeed and is elated when we hear that one who was challenged or struggled has done well,” her nominator said.
Carol Stevens, PhD, RN
Clinical Associate Professor, College of Nursing and Health Innovation
Arizona State University
Stevens teaches in the RN-to-BSN program and has been active in course development and course redesign. She serves on a number of committees to support undergraduate student scholarship, study abroad and student-faculty engagement. She recruits students, has developed an innovative curriculum and serves as a consultant to several colleges for developing excellence in distance education.
Stevens has mentored more than 20 undergraduate students in the last two years to complete their honors theses as well as eight graduate students. Under her leadership, the number of undergraduate nursing students in the university’s Barrett Honors College program has increased to more than 90 students. She mentors faculty in course development and teaching, is an active participant in college committees and has actively sought sources for scholarships for students.
Her nominator said her teaching, mentorship of students and professional leadership have contributed significantly to the college’s reputation.
An enthusiastic and positive role model for faculty, students and the profession, Stevens has an active research program, publishes and presents nationally, regionally and locally. She has contributed to nursing knowledge through research, and her current research is on the assessment of student writing abilities in an online RN-BSN program.
Stevens has served in several leadership positions on the Arizona Nurses Association, Arizona Nurses Foundation and Arizona Nurses Action Coalition, where she developed resources and training for nurses to serve on boards. A past president of the Arizona Nurses Association, she extended her influence on behalf of nursing to a national level.
Excellence in Executive Leadership
Alice Benjamin, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, PCCN-CMC
Cardiac Clinical Nurse Specialist
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
With nearly two decades of experience, Benjamin serves as an expert clinical practitioner responsible for providing leadership, consultation, education and patient care management expertise for the cardiac medical patients in the telemetry/progressive care areas. She co-leads the interdisciplinary heart failure readmission reduction initiative, a program designed to improve the quality, efficiency and cost of care services for patients by enhancing care coordination and healthcare processes.
Dedicated to ensuring nurses are provided with the most recent evidenced-based practice and research to deliver exceptional care to patients, Benjamin provides direct care for patients with complex cardiac issues and supervises and guides nursing staff and healthcare team members in their care. In addition to her work at the facility, she has started a boutique education company called Ask-A-Nurse First, which offers training seminars to prepare nurses for boards, exams and meeting competencies.
Benjamin is a community health activist and involved member of several professional organizations. Most notably she was the first African-American nurse elected to the American Nurses Association/California board of directors, is a spokeswoman and chairwoman for the American Heart Association’s Western States Multicultural Health Equity Task Force, and is a media health expert and writer. She has appeared on the Dr. Oz show, Dr. Drew, Fox News and other programs, talking about heart health and diet, and through those efforts she has reached millions of people with a heart-healthy message. She also is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media and Policy at Hunter College in New York City.
Cathy Owens, MEd, RN, NCSN, SN
Coordinator of Health Services/Lead Nurse
Murrieta (Calif.) Valley School District
Lead nurse for the Murrieta Valley School District, Owens oversees a staff of eight credentialed school nurses and health technicians at each of the 18 K-12 school sites.
Owens became passionate about the safe and appropriate care of students with asthma and allergies after she saved the life of a student with unknown allergies who was experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis, by using another student’s EpiPen. She serves on a state legislative committee focused on these conditions, and she worked closely with California Sen. Bob Huff and other legislators to help pass legislation to mandate the stocking of epinephrine at schools for the treatment of anaphylaxis. A key player in passing legislation 10 years earlier for the permissive use of epinephrine in schools, Owens spearheaded efforts to develop training standards for school staff with input from key stakeholders.
Owens also was instrumental in initiating the placement of automated external defibrillators in all schools in her district for students and staff who may experience a cardiac event at school.
On the board of various community organizations and a member of Sigma Theta Tau, she has served on the State School Nursing Organization board of directors for the past 20 years. It has been through this role that Owens has had the privilege of meeting with some of the most notable leaders in school health.
Owens believes when you have a passion and love for what you do, you can accomplish just about anything, and her colleagues admire the way she models excellence in everything she does, her nominator said.
Laurie Paletz, BSN, RN-BC, PHN, SCRN
Stroke Program Coordinator, Neurology
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
Paletz has served as the facility’s stroke program coordinator since its inception in 2003 and has played an integral part in growing the program. Her grassroots campaign to spread the word about stroke began when she set up a table with stroke signs and symptoms magnets outside of a coffee shop.
Paletz is responsible for developing community education programs on stroke, stroke prevention and poststroke management and works closely on stroke-related clinical trials at the facility. She is widely recognized for her expertise, speaking nationally on a wide variety of stroke-related topics and participating in educational conferences, podium and poster presentations and community outreach events.
Paletz is known to work tirelessly scrutinizing every stroke patient’s chart to make sure the facility meets and exceeds more than 200 quality measures and stroke care requirements. Her energy is contagious and uplifting and her work ethic is unparalleled, her nominator said. As a result of her efforts, the stroke team is respected hospitalwide and the program’s performance on the quality measures has led to its certification as a Comprehensive Stroke Center by the Joint Commission.
Paletz envisioned and succeeded in eliminating the idea that each discipline works in a silo, believing that to bring about the best care for stroke patients, multiple disciplines needed to collaborate. She has been a key player in building these strong bridges between nursing units, physicians and, in many cases, whole departments.
Paletz is recognized throughout the institution as a brilliant nurse who is full of life and possesses a heart of gold.
Kimberly Pearson, MHA, MBA, RN, CCHP
Deputy Agency Director, Correctional Health Services
County of Orange, Health Care Agency
Santa Ana, Calif.
As the deputy agency director for correctional health services in Santa Ana, Pearson oversees a team of more than 350 employees who provide a broad range of healthcare services to approximately 7,000 adults who are incarcerated and youth who are institutionalized.
Pearson’s actions speak louder than her words. She spends time getting to know individual staff members and the various team dynamics at play at the facility. One of her strongest and most valuable assets is her ability to listen carefully and try to understand the issues at hand, working with staff and management to improve staff morale, satisfaction and performance, her nominator said. Viewed as a trustworthy and experienced leader, she addresses key clinical issues, helping employees create teams to resolve those issues and implement ideas they have worked collaboratively to solve.
Admired as an inspirational and committed leader, Pearson provides strong support and guidance to staff members and also encourages them to implement their own suggestions for improved patient care and staff satisfaction. As a result, staff feels enabled and engaged to bring forward innovative ideas that improved the delivery of patient care. Pearson has a knack for recognizing and highlighting individual strengths, then helping staff members use their talents and experience to provide better patient care and seek opportunities for their professional growth.
Modeling the behavior she expects and providing opportunities for staff to succeed, Pearson is known to set the bar high, expecting excellence in patient care.
Robin Schaeffer, MSN, RN, CAE
Arizona Nurses Association
In collaboration with the Arizona Nurses Association board of directors, staff and members, Schaeffer leads the processes for formulation of the association’s mission, goals, objectives, policies and strategic plan. She organizes and directs a staff of five employees and five contracted employees who provide legal and lobbying services, public relations, social media and other essential functions.
Schaeffer is one of only three association executive directors in the nation selected by the American Nurses Association to lead a regional multistate division, part of a pilot initiative to strengthen state nurses associations. She also has responsibility for ANA California and ANA Idaho. A notable accomplishment for her in this role was to complete the consolidation of nursing continuing education units, which led to decreased expenses and net gains in income for the organizations from CE course fees and a more efficient CE member service.
Schaeffer has significantly increased the biannual scholarship awards for undergraduate and graduate nursing students. She has served as a mentor for numerous emerging nursing leaders in her role as consultant to the Arizona Student Nurses Association, identifying and coaching candidates for leadership roles on committees and in professional associations. Because she has raised the visibility and credibility of nurses as healthcare and policy experts while working on expanding Medicaid, there has been a noticeable increase in outside requests for input from ANA Arizona on policy issues as well as the group’s contribution at statewide meetings that impact public and health policy.
Julia Wood, BSN, MSHCA, RN, PHN
Nurse Manager, Department of Public Health
Los Angeles County Children’s Medical Services/Health Program for Children in Foster Care
El Monte, Calif.
As a nurse manager, Wood oversees 78 nurses and supervisors with the ultimate goal of promoting and improving healthcare outcomes for more than 20,000 children. Among her many accomplishments, she has updated nursing policy and established an electronic patient assessment chart and a quality improvement/quality assurance tool and improved interdisciplinary collaboration and communication within and with the agency.
Wood also promoted a state senate bill that allows nurses to monitor children who are in foster care and receiving psychotropic medications, enabling them to follow through with the medical provider in their care. In collaboration with the Department of Children and Family Services, she also implemented a joint home visitation program ordered by the Los Angeles County supervisors in which nurses and social workers visit any child younger than age 2 who has been referred to the department for any allegation or at risk for neglect or abuse. Because of her efforts, this program has resulted in improved care coordination.
Recognized as someone who works well under pressure, Wood is experienced and confident when collaborating with various members of the healthcare team to create and implement competent and effective plans. Her colleagues admire her ability to work successfully with people from various walks of life. Possessing a strong sense of dedication and responsibility to her staff members, she is respected and well-liked by them and serves as an exemplary role model. She exudes a professionalism that affects the clients she serves and everyone around her.
Excellence in Management
Tamre Del Valle, MSN, RN
Director of ED and Cardiac Cath Lab
Valley Presbyterian Hospital
Van Nuys, Calif.
Del Valle leads a team of more than 80 staff, who care for 67,000 patients annually. The region’s only independent, nonprofit, community hospital serves the critical and urgent needs of a diverse community, including many patients and families who are underserved and lack access to primary healthcare services.
Del Valle has successfully led the departments through a period of significant change and improvement. She has remained consistent, conveying confidence and competence as an ED practitioner and leader. Since Del Valle started, quality of care, patient satisfaction and nurse satisfaction metrics have significantly increased, her nominator said, who describes her as someone who is laser-focused on improving timeliness of care.
The most significant achievement under her leadership was a multidisciplinary, workflow and process redesign. The team mapped out workflows, identified best practices, and collaborated to develop a new process and flow pattern for patients entering the ED. Traditional triage methods were replaced with a rapid intake process. Higher-acuity patients, who are most likely to be admitted, are placed in the ED-1 area, and lower-acuity patients are escorted to the ED-2 area.
Over the past two years, Del Valle’s dedication and hard work have completely transformed the work environment. Rather than transferring out of the ED, staff is transferring from other areas into the ED. She is described as someone who is compassionate, caring and knowledgeable, and has been able to instill a drive toward excellence and compassion throughout the department and hospital in a way that has appeared effortless.
Marcia Lynch, MSN, RNC, PHN
Director of Women’s and Children’s Services
Valley Presbyterian Hospital
Van Nuys, Calif.
As director, Lynch is responsible for a labor and delivery unit that births about 5,000 babies annually; an NICU in a level 2 setting; a postpartum and antepartum unit; and a pediatric and PICU department. Balancing multiple departments takes experience, skill and dedication for successful leadership, and Lynch excels at it, her nominator said.
She has created a healthy environment focused on perinatal safety, moving forward with policy, procedures and best practices. Sharing her vision with her staff, she exemplifies kindness, support and doing the right thing, and believes it will pave the road in nursing excellence.
Lynch leads and inspires her team in problem solving and evidence-based practice. She has hired key people into leadership roles to assist with staff development, brought new grads into the departments and increased staff morale with safe working environments. Always welcoming nursing students, Lynch provides them with a broad range of clinical experiences and nursing knowledge.
Lynch also heads a team of physicians and nurses working on relationship development with the goal of increased ability to function as a team, especially in an emergency, and she guided the hospital through the baby-friendly designation by the World Health Organization.
Her colleagues know she models everything a manager should in motivating her team, creating nursing quality goals and providing a vision that all aspire to meet. Laying a foundation of trust with her staff, she works hard, is never afraid to jump in where needed and advocates and compromises with grace and fortitude, her nominator said.
Maria Villar, BSN, RN
Sharp Grossmont Hospital
La Mesa, Calif.
As the NICU supervisor, Villar shares the responsibility for the supervision of all clinical personnel who provide patient care in the department. She is involved in the day-to-day collaboration and coordination of care with the multidisciplinary team to make sure there is consistency in the provision of high quality care and evidence-based best practices. She keeps an excellent working relationship with staff by being flexible with her schedule and by working days and nights, as needed, assuring staff of her presence as a leader as well as providing the necessary support the night staff may need.
While maintaining a healthy relationship with staff, she addresses any areas of concern, whether it is behavioral or clinical performance and makes sure she does it within a just culture environment. She actively engages and rewards staff and is consistent with providing information to management in a timely manner.
One of the most important initiatives she led was implementing TeamSTEPPS, an interprofessional education training program, which includes huddles at the start of each shift as well as other communication enhancements. She has been creative in providing rewards and recognition to the employees who have demonstrated engagement above and beyond the expected and provides strong encouragement to those who may need it. She always rounds on the unit, talking with patients and family members to assess their needs and support them in their care. She is a visionary leader and effective manager whose positive outlook and can-do attitude are contagious, her nominator said.
Rosa Coleen Wilson, MSN, RN, BC-NE
Unit Director, ICU
UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center
Wilson began as a staff nurse and grew into the position of unit director for critical care at the facility. A strong advocate and consummate professional, she has guided her unit to obtain Beacon status from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Under her leadership, nurses strive to provide exemplary care to critically ill patients and their families, and have achieved high standards in pain management and decreased central line infections, as well as patient satisfaction scores well above the national average, her nominator said.
Wilson collaborates well with management colleagues, and her leadership has contributed to high nursing satisfaction, her nominator said. She seeks supportive interventions and reaches out to palliative care for debriefings after difficult and traumatic cases and provides educational opportunities with them including participation in the IMPACT ICU Project, which trains nurses to lead and facilitate family meetings.
Her unit has implemented evidence-based practice standards pertaining to pain assessment, and she has embraced technology and current evidence in multiple areas and implemented positive changes to her unit. She has achieved this culture by inspiring her staff to want positive changes, supporting them throughout with appropriate education and mentorship.
Wilson is admired for the way she has mastered the art of developing staff, including new graduates, who all, under her leadership, strive to achieve excellence in patient and family care. This isn’t just a job to her or them; it is a mission and a vision to heal mankind, her nominator said.
Suzanne Stone, BSN, AA, RNC-OB, C-EFM
RN, Labor and Delivery
A labor and delivery nurse with 31 years of experience, Stone is an accomplished mentor and preceptor to new and transitioning staff as well as students from a local nursing school. With a thorough and conscientious approach, she ensures smooth transition to the unit and the organization. Students benefit from her knowledge and experience as they are instructed on policies, procedures and the professional practice of nursing within the culture of the organization.
Stone also receives accolades from her patients and families for quality care experiences and outcomes, always ensuring individualized care experiences. Through the interpersonal relationships she has developed with peers, colleagues and other disciplines, she takes responsibility for the management of patients and their families, advocating for the best outcomes. She is a role model to her peers and a consistently high performer, who nurtures colleagues by planning various activities to celebrate special occasions and achievements such as baby showers, birthdays, promotions and other staff-related events, her nominator said.
Stone ensures smooth transitions of care and minimizes variations that can lead to risk to patients, gaps in care, missed or overlooked needs or incomplete care. She is described as someone who understands what it means to be empathetic and compassionate by providing nursing with a personal touch.
She volunteers with the Greater Orange chapter of the National League of Young Men Inc., which serves males in grades 9-12 and their moms, promoting the development of young men into community leaders through involvement in leadership roles, charitable and community service, and cultural experiences.
Eun Kay Yang, MSN, NP, RN
Manager of Labor and Delivery/Antepartum
White Memorial Medical Center
In her role in the high-risk labor and delivery department, Yang manages the daily operation of the unit, which includes staffing, scheduling, supplies, equipment, productivity, budget, performance improvement, safety and survey readiness, while overseeing 70 nurses, technicians and secretaries. She facilitated the department achieving baby-friendly designation from the World Health Organization, which demonstrates the unit’s dedication to removing barriers to exclusive breast-feeding and providing optimal care to promote the mother-baby bonding, her nominator said.
Committed and compassionate, Yang has effectively implemented and enforced new or revamped processes on the unit to improve patient care, cleanliness and efficiency of the environment. Supporting a team approach, she also advocated for a resource nurse to attend vaginal deliveries to ensure the safety of mother and baby during the most critical time in the birthing process, that is, the delivery of the infant. Prior to this change, nurses were often expected to care for both the newborn and mother in the immediate postpartum period, and to assist the birth attendant with any requested supplies or medications.
Her nominator said Yang is known to be there for her staff at all hours of the day and night to make sure that the unit is running properly and everyone is being supported. A relentless advocate for staff, patients, the labor and delivery specialty and nursing, she voices her pride in and dedication to her staff members, while creating a sense of team work and collaboration as they provide excellent patient care to their patients and families, her nominator said. •
GEM Nomination Process
The Nurse.com GEM Awards program is a nurse-led nomination, selection and award program. Nominees come from all specialties and practice settings and can be nominated in any of five categories: Excellence in Clinical Nursing; Excellence in Community Care; Excellence in Education and Mentorship; Excellence in Executive Leadership; and Excellence in Management.
Each year, Nurse.com calls upon you, our nurse readers, to tell us about the exceptional nurses you work with — nurses you believe deserve to be part of our GEM Awards program. Nurses submit online nominations at Nurse.com/GEM detailing the extraordinary contributions their colleagues make to patients and the profession, and nurse leaders act as judges to evaluate and score all nominations received.
GEM Program Phases, Awards
After initial judging, finalists in each region are named and awards are presented to them at GEM Award events held in four cities across the country in August and September. Regional winners, one in each category, are selected from among the finalists and are also announced at these events and featured in the November/December issues of Nurse.com magazines. Regional winners go on to compete in the national phase of the GEM program. After a third round of judging from among all the regional winners, five nurses, one in each category, are named national GEM winners. They will be announced and featured in the first issues of 2017.
Find out more about the annual Nurse.com GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) program.
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